|My sister's favorite place: Hawaii|
My sister passed away thirteen years ago.
Since her passing, my family and I have faced many other challenges. My parents were left to raise my sister's son while still dealing with her husband who suffers from tremendous anger issues. I myself have gone through bouts of depression and anxiety.
The results of taking care of my sister who suffered from a severe mental illness for ten years and its aftermath have definitely taken their toll and have manifested in physical form: my mother was diagnosed breast cancer (thankfully, today is in remission) while I and my little sister have both had health issues. But along with those challenging times, there were also many happy moments. My mother is doing fine, my sister's son is now almost eighteen, I got married and had two beautiful daughters. Despite all of our difficulties, life, in all of its splendor, went on without her.
eventually would lose everything: her marriage, her ability to play and compose, her finances, her mind.
If you had the blessing to have met my sister, you probably would never have forgotten her. She was a force, a Hawaiian goddess, a warrior. Not just beautiful, she was wise and could see and feel things far beyond this world. In fact, during her psychological breaks, she really did experience other worlds and spiritual realms and came back to relay them to me.
Looking back, I see now how precious those times with my sister writing together were. We were
So every night, after dinner, my sister and I would go to her room and she would talk into a tape recorder. I'd bring up cups of Japanese tea and just take notes and listen. The following morning, I would write on my word processor and then she would reread what I wrote. We were well on our way to getting the book done when a series of severe manic episodes hit her. Her condition had
worsened, the stress of both life and an unhappy marriage attributed to her downfall.
Years passed and the book was set aside and all but forgotten. And then one day, as she was finally doing so well, she came down down with flu-like symptoms on a trip, and passed away within twenty-four hours. It was so unexpected and so sudden; her body gave out.
We were all in disbelief. We not only lost my sister but before her untimely death, we truly thought we were doing so well. We believed that the battle against this cruel and baffling illness was over and in a way, looking back, I guess it was.
When she died, I stopped everything. Writing, living, existing. Though I had a baby to take care of, I was in such a deep depression and mentally and physically exhausted. I relied heavily upon therapy, sleeping pills, and my husband. I wasn't sleeping, I gained a huge amount of weight, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
But time heals all wounds and though it hasn't completely healed mine, it has helped. Thanks to the passing of that time along with lots of self-help, spirituality, and prayers, we are all in a better and much more happier place.
Which brings me to the book. The book with all of its note and stories sat in my closet for years until recently. Then a few months ago, during my prayers, I often heard an inner voice directing me to get out the stacks of paper from the closet. The voice
this one remained.
For years, I have wanted to write about our experience especially since there has been so many incidents as of late involving persons diagnosed with mental illness. There still is so much stigma, our system of treatment and care is so messed up that I felt a huge need to share our experience. It has taken me thirteen years but now I am ready.
I learned so much while taking care of my sister. When my sister passed away, at first, I was so angry, I suddenly wondered if our experience was for nothing. Was this pain and grief my parents and myself and her son went through all for nought.
I do not think so. Towards the end of her life, I learned the following: how to prevent her from going into a full-blown manic episode, look for specific signs, and develop a good psychiatric and medical team (perhaps one of the most crucial elements of stability lies with that). I also wanted to recount the incredible spiritual component of this illness. When I say that our experience was not just painful but bizarre and often miraculous, I mean it.
Today, I look at this stack of papers next to my desk and before I used to just close my eyes, weep and then close that closet again. The thought of going through the work was just too
painful, filled with too many memories. But recently, despite the tears, I have begun. I believe finishing this book will not only be cathartic but offer insights into this baffling illness.
Besides, I know my sister wants her story out...I feel it deep within my soul while I can hear her voice in my heart. "It's time, Gaya. It's time."